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Workers require rapid testing for post-festival factory return

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A man takes a factory worker’s temperature at Chumpu Voan high school in Phnom Penh’s Por Sen Chey district in April. Heng Chivoan

Workers require rapid testing for post-festival factory return

Minister of Labour and Vocational Training Ith Sam Heng has instructed the management at factories across the nation to prepare to test returning workers for Covid-19 using rapid test kits after the Pchum Ben public holiday ends next week.

In a decision dated September 28, Sam Heng said taking the rapid test was the only way to maintain business activities uninterrupted and that it was almost a certainty that there will be some factory workers who will have contracted the disease over the holiday.

“Testing for Covid-19 is the responsibility of the owners or managers of factories and enterprises.

“Any worker who refuses to take a test will be guilty of a serious infraction of disciplinary, safety and health regulations as stated in Article 83 of the labour law. Employers have permission to summarily dismiss any returning worker who refuses to be tested or evades the testing requirement,” he said in the letter.

Workers are also urged to report to the labour ministry through the Telegram group KhmerWorkerChat should their employers fail to give their workforce rapid tests when they return from the holiday.

Sam Heng reminded workers who have time off during the festival to maintain Covid-19 preventive measures at all times by wearing masks, frequently washing hands, maintaining social distancing and avoiding confined, enclosed or crowded spaces.

Fa Saly, president of the National Trade Union, welcomed the move. “Testing workers when they return to work for Covid-19 is the right thing to do to protect communities and it is the duty of all businesses to follow the labour ministry’s instructions to avoid any negligence that can lead to a widespread outbreak.”

He also said he was deeply concerned over the decision to give workers a holiday with time off because they will almost inevitably gather together for drinks should they return to their hometowns.

“I would like to call on all workers to protect themselves by avoiding public gatherings. But I think that these gatherings are possible for sure because some of our brothers and sisters seem less worried and careful about the Covid-19 virus than they used to be,” he said.

Cambodian Buddhists observe Pchum Ben for 15 days, this year from September 22 to October 6, with the principal festivities celebrated from October 5-7, ending a day after the main day of “great offering”, or Ben Thom, on October 6 coinciding with the new moon. The holiday is dedicated to their ancestors and is an occasion for families to get together.

On September 23, the government decided to suspend the traditional religious festival’s celebration fearing the spread of the disease but will maintain the October 5-7 public holiday.

Hun Sen said on September 25 that civil servants, garment workers and all employees working in the formal sector of the economy are entitled to take paid leave or to receive bonus pay if they must work through the holiday.

“You can go on trips to various [outdoor] places while still maintaining health measures. This will give everyone an opportunity for rest and relaxation over the Pchum Ben holiday,” he said.

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